The Professor Who Knows Our Names | Brian Jones | Catholic World Report
A tribute to the man who is Schall
“Father Schall cares about where you’re from and how you’re doing. He doesn’t need to do that, but he does. The greatest professor I’ll ever have knows my name.”
— Victoria Edel, former student of Father James Schall
“What, in the end, does a professor most want his students to remember? Not himself but what is true and the search for it. Above all, he wants them to remember the Socratic foundations of our culture, that ‘it is never right to do wrong,’ that death is not the worst evil, that ultimately our lives are about eternal life, as Benedict XVI writes in his great encyclical on modernity, Spe Salvi. The university is a place where truth, all truth, can be spoken, ought to be spoken. Often it is not. It is imperative, as Schumacher said, that a student knows where to turn when it is not.”
— Father James V. Schall, SJ, “The Final Gladness,” December 7, 2012.
I once took a philosophy course in which, at the end of the semester, the professor told us a story about whether or not there was such a thing as a “stupid question.” He said that toward the close of a recent semester at a university in Bulgaria, a young and tepid student raised her hand and asked, “Professor, is there such a thing as a stupid question?” Hoping to relieve the young student of her fear and worry, he quickly shot back, “Of course not. If you have any questions in this class, I want you to come right out and ask them with no worry of rebuke or concern that your question is not worth asking.” The girl breathed a sigh of relief, and then proceeded to ask her question: “Professor, how come you don’t know any of our names?” The professor, with his smile turning to stone, simply responded, “I guess I was wrong: that is a stupid question.”
The point of my telling this story as the introduction for a tribute to Father James Schall will hopefully become apparent. To even attempt to write something in honor of such a man, who the Georgetown University student newspaper calls a “living legend,” will surely fall enormously short of the true pietas that we, as his students, owe to him. Last month, Father Schall gave his last public lecture at Georgetown University, a place that he has been able to call home for the last 34 years. Of course, Father Schall would be quick to remind us, along with Chesterton, that even at home, he still has a sense of being “homesick.” Even in the greatest of places, surrounded with the joy of family and friendship, this life nevertheless leaves us unsettled. We are still restless, since even the good things of this life are simply a prelude to what is to come, whereby the fulfillment of all our desires and pursuits will come to rest in Him who is our end. It is all the more poignant, then, that Father Schall titled his last lecture, “The Final Gladness.” And what precisely is this “final gladness”? Schall tells us that it will ultimately consist “in a meeting in which we, in friendship, at last find ourselves seeing God as we would have it, face-to-face.”
Schall has bequeathed to us a plethora of writings wherein he has explored practically every topic in human affairs.